When the Bible speaks of eternal life, it refers to a gift of God that comes only “through Jesus the Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This gift is in contrast to the “death” that is the natural result of sin.
The gift of eternal life comes to those who believe in Jesus Christ, who is Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The fact that this life is “eternal” indicates that it is perpetual life—it goes on and on and on, with no end.
It is a mistake, however, to view eternal life as simply an unending progression of years. A common New Testament word for “eternal” is aiónios, which carries the idea of quality as well as quantity. In fact, eternal life is not really associated with “years” at all, as it is independent of time. Eternal life can function outside of and beyond time, as well as within time.
For this reason, eternal life can be thought of as something that Christians experience now. Believers don’t have to “wait” for eternal life, because it’s not something that starts when they die. Rather, eternal life begins the moment a person exercises faith in Christ. It is ourcurrent possession. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Note that the believer “has” (present tense) this life (the verb is present tense in the Greek, too).
We find similar present-tense constructions in John 5:24 and John 6:47. The focus of eternal life is not on our future, but on our current standing in Christ. The Bible inextricably links eternal life with the Person of Jesus the Christ. John 17:3 is an important passage in this regard, as Jesus prays, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Here, Jesus equates “eternal life” with a knowledge of God and of the Son. There is no knowledge of God without the Son, for it is through the Son that the Father reveals Himself to the elect (John 17:6; 14:9).
This life-giving knowledge of the Father and the Son is a true, personal knowledge, not just an academic awareness. There will be some on Judgment Day who had claimed to be followers of Christ but never really had a relationship with Him. To those false professors, Jesus will say, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:23. The apostle Paul made it his goal to know the Lord, and he linked that knowledge to the resurrection from the dead: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10–11
In the New Jerusalem, the apostle John sees a river flowing from “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1–2.
In Eden, we rebelled against God and were banished from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). In the end, God graciously restores our access to the tree of life. This access is provided through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Right now, every sinner is invited to know Christ and to receive eternal life: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17
How can you know that you have eternal life? First of all, confess your sin before God. Then accept God’s provision of a Savior on your behalf. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins, and He rose again the third day. Believe this; trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9 –10).
John puts it simply: “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:11–12